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‘Opportunity’ for Syria’s Assad in quake outreach, analysts say



'Opportunity' for Syria's Assad in quake outreach, analysts say

Syria’s politically isolated President Bashar al-Assad has received calls and aid from Arab leaders since a devastating earthquake Monday, a momentum analysts say he could leverage to bolster regional support.

The 7.8-magnitude pre-dawn quake has killed more than 16,000 people in Turkey and neighbouring Syria, already reeling from over a decade of conflict and years of economic sanctions.

Nicholas Heras of the New Lines Institute of Strategy and Policy said mobilisation to help quake victims offers Assad an opportunity to restore ties with some Arab countries, but “this humanitarian crisis will not exonerate his regime in Western states”.

“The horrible tragedy that has struck Syria and Turkey is a clear opportunity for Bashar al-Assad to try to advance the slow-moving… process of normalising his regime again with the rest of the Arab world,” Heras told AFP.

The Syrian president on Tuesday received a call from his Egyptian counterpart offering support, their first official exchange since Abdel Fattah al-Sisi assumed office in 2014.

While Cairo and Damascus have maintained relations during the 12-year war, the Arab League suspended Syria in 2011 and some other Arab countries have severed ties with it.

The ruler of Bahrain, which re-established diplomatic relations with Syria in 2018, called Assad on Monday, their first official conversation in more than a decade.

The United Arab Emirates — the first Gulf country to normalise ties with the Assad regime after years of boycott — is spearheading regional relief efforts.

Abu Dhabi has already pledged at least $50 million in assistance and sent several aid planes a day since the quake.

Lebanon, which has adopted a policy of dissociation, sent on Wednesday its first high-level official delegation to Damascus since the start of the conflict.

‘Use the moment’

Relief efforts could pave the way for “a clear and open channel for sustained diplomatic engagement”, Heras said.

But Aron Lund of Century International think tank said the messages of support were “routine… after a major natural disaster”.

“We’ll have to wait and see,” the Syria expert told AFP. “Will there be more of these contacts, and will they be sustained beyond the immediate crisis?”

“The crisis may lower the threshold for bilateral contacts” between Damascus and Arab states that have so far been reluctant to normalise ties, he added. “Assad will try to use the moment.”

Saudi Arabia, which severed ties with the Assad regime in 2012 and had backed Syrian rebels in earlier stages of the war, has pledged aid to both rebel-held and government-controlled parts of the country.

Saudi aid will go directly to Aleppo’s government-controlled international airport as well as the Damascus-based Syrian Red Crescent, but there was no direct contact with the Assad government, an official at King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre told AFP.

Qatar, accused of funding rebels, has also swiftly pledged assistance despite no formal ties.

The earthquake could particularly strengthen Syria’s ties with rebel-backer Ankara, which have warmed in the months leading up to the quake, Lund said.
“Both countries now share a problem that goes beyond borders and political disagreements.”

Western aid

The Assad government has long branded the bloody conflict as a ploy by Western states, and blames crippling Western sanctions for a spiralling economic crisis.
But that has not stopped Syria’s outreach efforts after the earthquake.

Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said on Monday his government was ready “to provide all the required facilities” for international organisations to send aid.

And Bassam Sabbagh, Syria’s UN envoy, announced it would accept assistance from any country.

The Syrian Red Crescent has called on the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to help, and an EU official said Syria has even made an official plea to the bloc.

For its part, the United States said Tuesday it was working with partners to provide relief but would stand firm against working with the Damascus government.



BRICS Summit will be held in Johannesburg




BRICS Summit will be held in Johannesburg

The BRICS Summit of heads of state will be held in Johannesburg in August, Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said on Thursday, after speculation that it could be held elsewhere.

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China’s farm ministry seeks to salvage damaged wheat




China's farm ministry seeks to salvage damaged wheat

China’s agriculture ministry is urging local authorities to speed up the harvesting and drying of damaged grain after heavy rain flooded fields of ripe wheat in the country’s most important growing region.

Authorities should send emergency teams to drain water from fields, speed up access by harvesters and mobilise drying machinery to save as much of the crop as possible, said the ministry late on Tuesday (May 30). 

Giving further advice to these authorities, the ministry said: “Make full use of various places such as town squares or playgrounds, the front and back of houses to dry and harvest wheat to prevent sprouting and mould.”

China, the world’s top wheat grower, had expected a bumper crop this year. But heavy rain across the southern half of central Henan province last week is raising concerns.


Henan produced 28 per cent of China’s crop of 137 million tonnes in 2021.

Darin Friedrichs, co-founder of Shanghai-based Sitonia Consulting said it was too early to say how much output would be affected, but “the harvest is definitely going to be impacted”.

“The harvest was just ramping up and some areas have seen 400 per cent precipitation anomalies over the past 10 days,” he added.

Some wheat in southern Henan has sprouted after the rain, the government-backed Henan Daily said on Wednesday, making it unfit for consumption.

More than 90 per cent of the wheat around the city of Nanyang has sprouted, said a local harvester, referring to a county in the south of the province, while Zhumadian county is also impacted.


Buyers are purchasing the sprouted wheat at around 1,000 yuan (US$144.67) to 1,200 yuan per tonne, half of the normal price, he said, declining to be identified because of the sensitivity of the topic.

The spot wheat price in Zhengzhou fell 1.5 per cent to 2,700 yuan on Monday, weighed down by lower quality supply.

Sprouted wheat is also being seen in northern Shandong province, said the state-backed media

The agriculture ministry urged buyers to purchase sprouted wheat that can still be used for feed or industrial purposes while making sure it does not go to food.

The rain is also leading to blight in some areas, videos posted on social media and a local grain dealer said this we


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Who are the bride and groom in Jordan’s royal wedding?




Who are the bride and groom in Jordan's royal wedding?

He’s heir to the throne in one of the oldest monarchies in the Middle East and a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. She’s a Saudi architect with an aristocratic pedigree of her own.

Crown Prince Al Hussein bin Abdullah II, 28, and Rajwa Alseif, 29, are to be married on Thursday at a palace wedding in Jordan, a Western-allied monarchy that has been a bastion of stability for decades as Middle East turmoil has lapped at its borders.

The families have not said how the couple met or provided any details about their courtship. They were formally engaged at a traditional Muslim ceremony in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, in August 2022 that was attended by senior members of Jordan’s royal family.

The bride and groom are destined to become a power couple in the Middle East, forging a new bond between Jordan and Saudi Arabia as the latter seeks to transform itself into a regional power broker.


Here’s a look at the bride and groom.


Rajwa Alseif was born in Riyadh on April 28, 1994, the youngest of four children.

Her mother, Azza bint Nayef Abdulaziz Ahmad Al Sudairi, is related to Hussa bint Ahmed Al Sudairi, who is said to have been the favorite wife of Saudi Arabia’s founder, King Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, and gave birth to seven of his sons, including the country’s current ruler, King Salman.

For decades, the so-called Sudairi Seven, most of whom are now deceased, were seen as a major locus of power within the Saudi royal family.


Alseif’s father, Khalid, is a member of the Subai, a prominent tribe in the Arabian Peninsula with ancient roots. He’s also the founder of El Seif Engineering Contracting, which built Riyadh’s iconic Kingdom Tower and other high-rises across the Middle East.

Rajwa studied architecture at Syracuse University in New York, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2017. A graduation video shows her receiving her degree in sparkling silver sneakers.

The year before, she led a Spring Break architecture symposium in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, that was funded by her father’s company.

“What made this trip so memorable for me… was seeing the students in the studio experience Arabic culture and architecture for the first time,” she was quoted as saying by a university newspaper.

She went on to earn a degree in visual communications from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles.


An official biography shared by the Jordanian royal palace says her hobbies include horseback riding and handmade arts, and that she is fluent in English, French and her native Arabic.


Crown Prince Hussein was born June 28, 1994. His path to succession became clear when his father, King Abdullah II, stripped his own half-brother, Prince Hamzah, of the title of crown prince in 2004. Hussein was formally named heir to the throne five years later, at the age of 15.

He is the oldest son of Abdullah, 61, who has ruled Jordan as a reliable Western ally and voice of moderation through more than two decades of turmoil in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Iraq, all of which border the small, resource-poor kingdom.

The Hashemites, as Jordan’s ruling family is known, trace their lineage back to the Prophet Muhammad. They dwelled in the Hejaz region of what is now Saudi Arabia for centuries before King Abdul-Aziz Al Saud’s forces drove them out in 1925.


The Hashemites had led the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire during World War I, a rebellion dramatized by the 1962 film “Lawrence of Arabia.” They had hoped to rule over an Arab state encompassing much of the Middle East, but Western imperial powers betrayed them. The French drove them out of Syria and a nationalist uprising toppled them in Iraq, leaving them with only Jordan.

The crown prince is named for his grandfather, King Hussein, who ruled Jordan for 46 years until his death in 1999 and remains a beloved figure for many Jordanians.

It could be years before the crown prince becomes king, but his training has already begun.

He graduated from Georgetown University with a degree in international history in 2016 and from the British Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst the following year. He holds the rank of captain in the Jordanian military and routinely takes part in drills and ceremonies.

He has joined his father on overseas trips, including a recent meeting at the White House with President Joe Biden. The prince shared pictures from the visit on his Instagram feed, which has over 4 million followers and also features more casual photos.


In 2015, Hussein was the youngest person to ever chair a meeting at the UN Security Council, leading a discussion about how to help young people confront violent extremism and promote peace. Two years later, and just out of college, he addressed the UN General Assembly.

His experiences to date may have prepared him to rule Jordan, but he also exists in a world apart from most of his fellow citizens, who have suffered in recent years from diminishing economic prospects. Elected governments in Jordan have long served as a seawall for public anger, even as the king has always held the real power.

It’s a reality the young crown prince may have to confront someday, long after his palace wedding.

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